Did you ignore all the draft hype earlier in the spring? Did you say to yourself, I’ll just wait for summer, and now summer is here, the draft is today, and you have no idea who anyone is? We’ve got you covered.
Likely to go well before 17, he’s still worth brushing up on because you just never know.
An obvious standout on a team that isn’t good enough to contend is the description applied to Nico Hischier at the WJC. Necas fell into Hischier’s shadow at that event, and rightly so. Hischier had seven points to Necas’ three. Necas was not the top guy on his team, just obviously very gifted for a player his age.
But it also pays to remember that most players at the WJC are not that young. Necas turned 18 ten days after it was over. He was the third highest U18 player in points this year, behind Hischier and Eeli Tolvanen.
Necas has always been good for his age and young for his teams. Like a lot of high quality talent in Europe, he has been moved up the difficulty level in his home club until, in his case, he ended up on the championship men’s team this year. His point totals are very similar to Lias Andersson’s, who also won a championship in the top league at home in Sweden.
He might fall because of his size, but don’t count on it.
Suzuki carries similarities to Lias Andersson. Both players are well-rounded, and represent safe selections as projected middle-6 forwards. Although Suzuki is less physical, he is quite defensively responsible for his age, and boasts enough scoring ability to chip in 20 goals.
Sitting right in the Leafs range, is one of Carl Grundström’s junior linemates.
His strengths include winning puck battles, finishing off chances in tight, and firing off an above average wrist shot. His quick release is a threat on the powerplay, and he protects the puck well with a strong lower half. He's just average in terms of skating and zone entries, but we can consider this to be one of the safest picks available and a probable middle-6 forward. His ability to be relentless in puck battles bodes well for his shot differential numbers, and his quick release ensures that he can make the most of his chances.
A defender in the Leafs’ range who gets less buzz than some of the other choices.
There is certainly no concern with Valimaki’s size. The six-foot-two, some-200-pound rearguard from Nokia, Finland made strides after a rough start to his sophomore season in the WHL.
After recovering from an injury, Valimaki finished seventh among defensemen in scoring with 61 points (19-42-61) in 60 games. Not staggering numbers, but Valimaki is touted more for his consistency with decision-making. In his second year, he took on a big-minute-logging role with his team.
The downside to Valimaki’s play is he’ll need to work on his puck-handling skills. The kid loves to carry the puck, and he skates extremely well for his size, but when carrying the puck he shows a lack of creativity to slice through defenders. I see him as a top-four guy in the future, but if he could put together a softer set of hands, you’re looking at a possible high-end puck-moving defender.
Once more highly ranked, he’s tumbled into the middle of the pack.
Vesalainen is quick, especially for a 6’3 forward. He buzzes around the offensive zone and seemingly holds onto the puck for ages. His vision is quite good, and he has a knack for drawing opposing defenders towards him before dishing the puck off to an open teammate.
He is “slippery” down low in the offensive zone, and his elusive nature makes him a pain to defend against along the boards. His speed makes him a dangerous threat on the rush, and he is a strong playmaker for a winger of his size.
He was once in the conversation for the top three, but now he’s also a middle of the pack choice.
Scouting Liljegren, Jeff Marek of Sportsnet says that he is “A strong and well balanced skater who possesses a really good shot. Good puck mover who likes it on his stick a lot.” Bob McKenzie is also bullish on his skating, and says that he is “an elite skater, both in terms of speed and agility.”
When Uncle Bob was highest on Liljegren in September of 2016, he had this to say about Liljegren: “He is seen as both a puck mover and an offensive point producer. No one is suggesting he’s the next Erik Karlsson, not by any means, but scouts say he has some of the same qualities and, therefore, has the potential to be projected as a possible top pairing defenceman in time.” More recently, McKenzie pointed out that, “While he's still viewed as a prospect with a high offensive ceiling, his spotty play in the second half, combined with Heiskanen greatly elevating his play, resulted in a big swing for both players.”
He was our mock draft pick, Bob McKenzie has him at 17, he’s in the right range, and he’s a ... winger. Hmmm.
Tolvanen possesses the best shot in the draft, and he shoots often. Opposing teams must make him a focus on the power play, and his teammates usually try to set him up as much as possible. He constantly scores from a distance, and his release is incredibly quick.
The knock on Tolvanen is largely his off the puck play, as he’s undersized and not overly physical. While quick, he will not be the first player over the boards to kill a penalty. He’s certainly more of a scorer than a playmaker, as it makes sense for him to use his shot at every opportunity.
He is the most mysterious player in the draft.
Klim Kostin, which by the way would be a dope name for a bounty hunter in Star Wars, is a power RW out of Russia. He’s 6’3”, 196 lbs., and is by all accounts an offensive monster in his skillset. He’s been working his way up through the Dynamo Moscow system for the last few years, impressing in the MHL (the Russian major junior hockey league) last season and adding some quality performances in international play. Kostin was drafted first overall in the CHL import draft in 2016, but elected to stay in Russia.
Kostin’s most recent season was, bluntly, a terrible disappointment. Kostin got a look with Dynamo Moscow in the KHL and produced no points in nine games; he had a lonely goal and no assists in eight games in the MHL (the Russian second league.) For a 17-year-old to struggle in pro leagues is hardly catastrophic, but in January Kostin suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. So that’s what we have to go on.
He is the second most mysterious player ranked high.
Ryan, who is just 18 with a January birthday, was also a freshman at St. Cloud State last year. Ryan, you see, spent last summer accelerating through the final few courses he needed in high school so he could go to college early. He’s better than his brothers.
In his freshman year, where by all accounts, he had a terrible start, he beat both of them in points, just. He did that with 9 games of USHL experience, not a full season. He skipped a step. And it worked.
Ryan is a centre who shoots left, and he’s ranked 13th by NHL Central Scouting for N.A. skaters. He’s ranked on consolidated lists anywhere from 14th - 20th. He knew when he was in high school at 17 that he’d be ranked high enough in the draft this year to make the early admission to college worth it. An NCAA team wanted him, after all. He had to have something to offer.
His name is famous. Is that casting a halo on this defender?
Foote offers good size at 6’4”, and uses his physical presence to make life difficult for opposing forwards. He’s your typical risk-averse defender, and he is fairly good passer for a player of his size. He’s not as physical as his father (former NHL defenceman Adam Foote), but his strength and defensive awareness provide him with plenty of potential in his own end.
Although he is fairly skilled for such a big guy, this is not a player you would expect to carry the puck in for a zone entry. His mobility will be a question mark throughout his development, and he must prove that he can keep up at the NHL level. In addition, he does not represent much of a goal-scoring threat, as he scored just 6 goals this season while playing on the third-highest scoring team in the WHL. Ultimately, you must be quite confident in Foote’s defensive potential to select him at #17.
He has an everyman's name, but you have to be something special to be a first round pick.
It’s difficult as a 17-year-old to carve out a role in a perennial OHL powerhouse such as the London Knights, but that’s exactly what the under-the-radar Thomas did in 2016-17. Averaging a point-per-game, the young pivot was used in all situations for the Knights, routinely receiving some of the more difficult defensive assignments night in and night out.
Thomas finished third among London players with 66 points, and one point behind Buffalo prospect Cliff Pu with 52 points at even strength. Next season, with first line responsibilities for the full season and more deployment on the power play, expect Thomas’s point total to skyrocket. Although he didn’t shoot much, averaging fewer than two shots per game, the center’s shooting percentage was over 12%. Increasing his shot volume will lead him to be closer to 25 goals next season.
He has an ordinary Finnish name, and it might be well worth our while to learn to spell it.
The defenceman has a multitude of strengths, chief among them being his awareness on the ice. That skill is most obvious in his own end, where he is usually found in excellent defensive position to deal with the opposition’s attacks. As a result, he does well at occupying shooting lanes to either block the puck from getting to his net or forcing a player to look for another option.
He pefers a more active style of defence, however, using his stick to break up passes and take the puck away from his check along the boards. Once he has obtained it, his great awareness allows him to locate the best passing option to get out of his zone.
He can also lead the breakout himself, thanks to his exceptional skating ability. He has a smooth stride and is able to glide forward or backward with relative ease. When that is combined with his awareness, he’s virtually improssible to beat to the net in a one-on-one situation.
He has the name for a defenceman, but he is actually a centre.
It’s a quick description on the choice from Marek: “Norris is real tough to play against with a never-say-die attitude. Good two-way center.”
Norris, 18, is a 6’1, 192-pound center set to play at the University of Michigan next season. He’s coming off a good year with the U.S. developmental program in which he recorded 27 goals and 34 assists in 61 games.
Is he ranked too low because of his size? Maybe.
Yamamoto is the extreme case of the ‘small but skilled scoring winger’ archetype. He’s already drawn comparisons to another undersized former Spokane Chief - Tyler Johnson. He won’t go undrafted like Johnson did, but nonetheless, Yamamoto can be a divisive player.
He’s clearly better at the junior level than a lot of players who will be drafted above him. But ultimately, we’re not drafting players for junior. We’re drafting them for their NHL potential. So what’s the argument for and against the Leafs taking him at #17 or #18 overall?
He’s big, he’s a good student, and he’s usually ranked below the Leafs’ range.
Size is still a very useful thing in the NHL — wingspan and physical strength haven’t gone out of style just because the Mitch Marners of the world have come in — but in junior it can let a player survive despite poor mobility or offence. No worries there: Nic Hague is no Coke Machine. He’s a fluid skater, and he produces a ton of points — especially goals.
Hague’s a steady rather than a spectacular puck-mover — he makes the smart play and he’s reasonably quick, but he isn’t a sprinter or a premiere set-up man. But he shoots both very hard and in bunches, getting both his full slapper and his snapshot on and in the net. This leads to excellent goal totals.
Likely to go lower than 17th, he’s still a very interesting prospect.
Are you willing to take a risk? When drafting an undersized defenceman, you question whether or not the player will be able to factor in on the penalty kill or match up against top competition. However, some of the top offensive defencemen in the game are undersized, and we can take Torey Krug, Ryan Ellis, Tyson Barrie, or Sami Vatanen for example. Brannstrom’s ability to fire a quick and accurate breakout pass allows his team to frequently exit the zone with possession, and he spends less time in his own end as a result.
Age is a huge factor here, as he’s only a few weeks away from being eligible for the 2018 draft. Hague, Foote, and Makar were all born in 1998, and it is tough to see them being rated so highly if they were draft eligible a year earlier. Brannstrom could be a star in the 2018-2019 World Junior Tournament, while these other three defenders will not even be eligible.
Who do you think will be the Leafs’ best option at 17th overall?